The frugal commuter car? - Mothering Forums

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Old 05-18-2009, 11:41 PM - Thread Starter
 
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DH's car seems to be terminal. The repair shop guy (whom I have a great amount of trust in these guys are great) told us when it overheated last week and needed $800 in repairs to fix the blown gaskets that he thought maybe it was time to consider getting rid of it. We avoided another $800 or so in repairs to replace the dash circuitry which has cut out, so none of the gas / oil / temp / check engine gauges work. What the repair guy said was 'We can fix all of this (meaning crack the dash and replace the circuitry), but at the end of the day its still going to be a Chevy Malibu and there will be another problem, etc' We have been ignoring little problems on it for a while now, since we don't want to spend the money to fix them - like the driver side window not going down and the a/c is flakey (the repair shop said there is something under the hood related to the a/c that is broken, I can't remembe the details now)

DH doesn't care what he drives, but he commutes 50 miles a day for work. We want to figure out what would truly be the least cost reliable car (we don't mind putting money into repairs on a used car, but having the car break down on him isn't acceptable). He asked the repair shop guy what cars he would recommend and he said Toyota Camry 4 cylinder. He said had 1 he said the shop was going to sell (they don't sell cars as a rule, but if they see an opportunity to buy a car cheap and put some work into sometimes they do) - I think he said they were going to replace the engine and sell it for $3000 (though DH says he doesn't remember the year) and another patron wanted to sell theirs for $3500, he said he thought it was a good price if it had had the big some number of years tuneup, but not if it hadn't. I'll have to call him back and get the model year though.

I'd be happy to buy a $3-5K Toyota, but it makes me wonder whether we wouldn't be better off getting a new or newer hybrid since DH drives so far and gas prices are bound to climb higher in the future. The question is - will the new hybrids from say Toyota or Honda last the way the older Toyotas and hondas have lasted? If we bought a new car we would drive it for as long as it lasted. We wanted to drive the malibu a few more years, but unfortunately they have a terrible track record. There is also the appeal of getting a new car because of the warranty and the fact that we know what its been through and that its had the right maintenance on it, etc. I did look at the value of honda civics and found that they lose less value from new to year 1 as they do from year 4 to year 5, they don't seem to have that big drop at the beginning that some other cars have.

Anyway, it got us thinking what really is the best lowest cost car solution for us. How you pay for the car aside (cash, financing, etc) - what car, age, etc do you think would give a heavy commuter the best value year over year?

Thoughts?

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Old 05-19-2009, 12:17 AM
 
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I would personally get a used Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic too, or a small diesel VW (i.e. Golf). The age would depend on my budget. I think a hybrid is a good choice for environmental and fuel efficiency, but I don't think they work out financially for quite a while.
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Old 05-19-2009, 12:38 AM
 
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We were just faced with a similar situation. For the most part, we buy Toyotas, buy them new and keep them for 15-18 years. We currently own a Saturn (not the car that needed replacing) and while it's OK, I'll never do that again because it's not anywhere the level of quality of the Toyotas we've had. I'm not ready to pay the extra price for a hybrid at this point because I don't know that they will last that long and they cost substantially more than a conventional equivalent car.

If Toyotas or Hondas that were 2 years old with 25K cost substantially less than a new one, I'd have done that, but they don't. The used ones we were looking at were as much or very nearly as much as the new ones, and in some cases more! : To get a cheap one, you need to look at cars at least 5-6 years old with 80-90K or so, which doesn't appeal to me. We get a modest car loan, and the rates for used cars are significantly higher than what I could get for a new one.

Gas mileage and reliability are very important for us. Having a car in the shop is a major, major PIA because it is extremely difficult for either of us to get a ride to work with somebody else.

If dh was comfortable in a Civic, we probably would have gotten that. Unfortunately, he's very tall and the Civic has a weird handbrake that hurt his leg. We considered and liked the Fit. We also liked the Nissan Sentra and the Hyundai Elantra. We ended up getting a 2010 Corolla.

Edmunds.com has good "total cost to own" info that we found useful because it takes into account fuel efficiency, insurance costs, depreciation, and not just sales price, and since we keep the cars forever, that's a better guideline for us than just sales price. But, while the Prius has one of the very best costs to own, it doesn't take into account those of us who keep a car until the car itself is old enough to drive.

Oh, and for what it's worth, if you are getting a car loan, we found that the two credit unions we belong to had substantially better rates than either the dealers or any of the local banks.
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Old 05-19-2009, 01:53 AM
 
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Lots of questions...I will try to at least address some of them.

Definitely move on from the Chevy Malibu, your mechanic is correct. Once a car like that starts to fall behind AND have some other big ticket items, it generally is not worth it.

For a replacement car...we run an independent car repair shop and often do the same thing with taking a decent car that a customer doesn't want anymore and fixing all its problems, then selling it to another customer. If they are as good as you say, then their Toyota would probably be the best financial deal of the ones you listed, especially if they are catching the car up with maintenance (new timing belt, spark plugs, filters, and any other problems) and offering a warranty. We usually offer a warranty that is prorated over the course of a year (100% for the first 3 months, then dropping to 75% of repair cost the next 3 months and then continuing down every 3 months).It doesn't cover things like radios or accessories. If they do this then snatch up that car.

In terms of the hybrids, we have a strong preference for the Toyotas (though we certainly have customers with Hondas). They have been extremely reliable cars with very few repairs needed. If you are looking to get the newest generation, be sure to check the waiting list in your region to make sure it isn't longer than you are willing to wait. In terms of saving $$ by buying a hybrid, even with a 50 mile commute it is still a long pay off period at these gas prices. Of course if gas goes way up again it will shorten it... You would need to do some actual calculations to see what your payback period would be. I wasn't interested in the payback period when I bought my hybrid. I liked the technology, love the car, and love supporting innovation. And they are just really well designed and built.

Good luck with your decision

Kris wife to Stew and mom to Joey 8/03 who cares for , 2 frogs and a worm
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Old 05-19-2009, 02:17 AM
 
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You might also look at a used subaru. We've driven all of our subaru's to nearly 200,000 miles and they were going strong at that point. The subarus have average/good gas mileage, similar to the corolla or civic, but in my opinion are a lot more fun to drive, especially if you have a manual. I would avoid the volkswagon TDIs. Although they have great gas mileage, they tend to have a LOT of electrical problems around 100,000 miles and beyond.
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Old 05-19-2009, 03:32 AM
 
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We had this issue last year, but with the added issue of it being our only car, so it had to be super reliable too.

We went with the Honda Fit. It's a small, light car, but handles incredibly well. Even at the outrageous prices of last summer, it took all of $30 to fill the entire tank. Our car has a weird quirk too: we get better gas mileage the faster we drive. Seriously weird, but true.

I had the same experience a pp did that all the old Hondas & Toyotas held their value really well. It didn't make financial sense to buy 2yr old car at the same price as new. This is good for us too, because if we decide to sell, we are not going to be hit with much depreciation. I liked this because if, for some reason we had to sell the car we wouldn't have to worry about being 'upside down' on it from the beginning (we also put down a LARGE downpayment, but that's a different story).

Right now with dealerships in general hurting, you can probably get Hondas & Toyotas brand new for a steal! Just email a few dealerships & then pit them against one another. All the haggling with no/little face time.

Ami

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Old 05-19-2009, 09:30 AM
 
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Here are quality stats for car makes.

JD Powers

The new one comes out next month.

Older Toyotas and Hondas definately have better quality. Toyota is now experiencing growing pains, so quality is slipping. So, if you were buying used, I say buy a Toyota.

If you are thinking Hybrid (there is a tax credit from the federal gov which I think is $1750) then you might want to consider a ford fusion hybrid. It currently got over 1000 miles on one tank. You can see it on Ford Fusion on youtube

I think there is a program called cash for clunkers that is in the process of approval, can't remember if its in the house or senate, it gives a voucher up to $4,500 depending on certain factors. Cash for Clunkers

Hope that helps...
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Old 05-19-2009, 10:47 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks everyone, I appreciate the opinions. Especially the second opinion on Chevy Malibu's being crap. I looked up its blue book value - its a 1998 and in fair condition (which it definitely is), its only worth $925. DH found out the Camry the garage is selling is a 98. What a difference.

The budget is another thing, I'm just not sure. We still have a loan on my car for another 2 years. We don't want to do loans anymore, so I really wanted to make DH's car last a lot longer so that we could pay mine off, then use the extra money to save up cash for a new car for DH, buy a new toyota or honda to drive forever, etc. But DH's car would need to last another 6 years probably for that plan to work. It ain't gonna happen.

We have I'd say $5-7K in what I call short term savings mostly from our tax return that we were going to spend on home improvements, but none of them are critical, they could be put off until next year, etc. We have no room in our monthly budget for a car loan, without cutting back significantly on kids activities and recreation. Something I'd do in an emergency certainly, but I don't want to do it to finance a new car. We have a big emergency fund - 8 months and we could use some of that to fund a new car, but I have it because I feel its necessary and I don't want to dip into that. Similarly I don't want to sell those right now. I think I'm just thinking to myself if its cheaper in the long run to buy a new car and drive it 15 years I don't want to be hording cash in an emergency fund and paying more becuase of it, you know. But we have that for a reason, we are a single income family and DH could easily be out of work for a year trying to find a similar paying job, or have to take one at a much reduced pay in this economy.

So, I guess I'm talking myself into about a 5-7K budget on a used car. I think if we could get a car that would only cost a reasonable amount to maintain (our budget includes $200/mo for car maintenance, a little more than we really use with the intention of saving toward the next car) and we could be sure would last another 6 years without significant repairs, that would probably be the best option.

BTW, I found an article on the Toyota Camry hybrid on edmunds that said the hybrid only costs about $1500 more than a similarly equipped Camry. I think the issue really is that if you aren't considering a 'similarly equipped' car the hybrids are more expensive, its a lot more than say a basic Corolla or even the base Camry, because the hybrid comes with more features standard I think.

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Old 05-19-2009, 11:16 AM
 
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DH drives a 2003 Toyota Echo we bought used for 5000. It gets great mileage and has never had the slightest problem. It's tiny, but it's just him and his briefcase. It has four doors so we can transport kids in a pinch, but we have only done that once for a short drive.
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Old 05-19-2009, 12:41 PM
 
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Consumer Reports also has a "best used car under $XXXX" feature that they run every year. Your local public library will probably have a copy.
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Old 05-19-2009, 01:18 PM
 
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little mazda. I just bought one (m3) and love it. it actually beat toyota and honda in most catagories (for comporable cars), and has a great warrenty. and it was cheap. and I have no doubts that unless some outside force comes upon this car (like a big truck running a stop sign) my baby will be driving it safely and without worry.

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Old 05-19-2009, 02:03 PM
 
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Toyota here, too. But I'd go for a Corolla not a Camry, since it'll just be him in it.

The fuel economy is brilliant, they cost nothing to repair and go forever.

Quote:
So, I guess I'm talking myself into about a 5-7K budget on a used car. I think if we could get a car that would only cost a reasonable amount to maintain (our budget includes $200/mo for car maintenance, a little more than we really use with the intention of saving toward the next car) and we could be sure would last another 6 years without significant repairs, that would probably be the best option.
We paid $5,000 for ours seven years ago, it now has 120,000 miles and is worth $1,000 and it is utterly reliable. I just had all the brakes done for about $200. I've had them done once before.
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Old 05-19-2009, 02:29 PM
 
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We just bought a commuting/family travel car on a limited budget (replacing my husband's older, gas-guzzling SUV), so we've done tons of research in the last few months.

I would definitely look into Subaru, Honda and Toyota. If you want a more recent, lower-mileage car, you may just want to look into buying new. All three makes hold their value really well, which tells you something about the quality and reliability, and AFAIK they're not terribly expensive to repair (or at least they're less expensive to repair than my VW). We went over our budget a million times, looked at every new and used car in the known universe, and decided to buy new, but if you don't mind a car that already has 80 or 100K miles on it you can find a used one in your range that will definitely last you at least another 100K. If you do go used, I'd suggest buying from a dealer (Certified Used if they have a program like that) and no matter who you buy from, get the car checked out by another mechanic before buying. I bought my Jetta used from a small, non-VW dealer and although I thought I got a good deal, I ended up paying for a lot of mistakes the previous owners made.

DH and I ended up buying a Subaru Impreza WRX for the AWD and because it's just fun to drive (it's a manual, and it's REALLY fast). Since we broke it in, we've been getting nearly 30mpg, probably 60/40 highway/city miles, which is really excellent for an AWD vehicle. It's a little pricey but we're planning on keeping it pretty much until it dies, so it'll be worth paying for in the long run. If you're really interested in a hybrid, another car we were considering was the Civic Hybrid. It's not much more expensive than the regular Civic, unlike the Prius which is something like $8-10K more than the Corolla, the non-hybrid line it's most comparable to.

I would not buy an American car. We've owned them in the past - way too many problems.

HTH - good luck!
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Old 05-19-2009, 02:53 PM
 
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I would also consider buying new - have you read the articles about how cars are piling up where they come off the boats? If you need a new car, this is probably a great time to get one. We love our '05 Prius, my sister bought a new one recently and has had issues with it. Don't know if I'd get one now - maybe one of the small commuter cars (corolla, civic, fit etc), with all the airbags and safety features you can afford to help make a small car safer.
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Old 05-19-2009, 03:26 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Consumer Reports also has a "best used car under $XXXX" feature that they run every year. Your local public library will probably have a copy.
Oh good tip, I'll check out the website as DH's family shares a membership to it (we take turns paying for it) and they usually have all the reviews from the magazine on there.

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Old 05-19-2009, 03:50 PM
 
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We are in a similar position. Right now we are a one vehicle family planning to buy a commuter car for DH who drives 100 miles/day. I think we are going to go with a 2000-2003 Civic with as low miles as we can find it. We recently ditched our 01 Civic, but it was a very good car. DH was rough on it and it had almost 200k miles and would have needed about 1500 in repairs to last a couple more years (we traded it in for the downpayment on our Odyssey). For 5-7k you can get something pretty good for your needs.
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Old 05-19-2009, 04:45 PM
 
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i love me a suburu but they cost a fortune to fix and when they decide it is time to go they really decide to lay down and die. also maintenence and tires were super expensive.

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Old 05-19-2009, 06:47 PM
 
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Another vote for getting a Toyota! We have 2 currently, a '00 Camry and "99 Celica. Both were bought used, both have 125k on them. The Camry is a 4-cylinder and when we lived on the mainland, the mileage was about 28mpg+/-
Now we live where there are lots of hills and stop/start driving, so the mileage has dropped to about 24mpg. Dh's Celica gets 32k, but that car is more expensive to repair than the Camry.

Honestly, other than regular stuff like oil changes, I have only put about $1000 into the Camry in the 9 years I've owned it. We have so much faith in the reliability of Toyotas, we are paying to have both cars shipped back to the mainland when we move this summer! We figure that it'd be better to pay for shipping a reliable car that we know the history on than to try to buy something unknown.
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Old 05-20-2009, 12:48 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I've been looking at used and new cars and am starting to sway toward new now because of the deals available at the moment. I could get either an accord or a camry (2009) for about $19.5K out the door (all tax, title, etc included). Considering how much some of these cost used (because they hold their value so well), and the fact that DH really needs a reliable car, he works tons, commutes so far he deserves to not have to worry about the car. I submitted quote requests to a bunch of dealers and they are more than willing to outbid each other. I had one trying to tell me there is no way these other dealers could be offering the car that low, as it was $300 below his cost, then got a call two minutes later from another dealer who was happy to outbid the lowest by $100.

I am thinking we will go test drive a camry and an accord this weekend and see what he thinks of them.

I've had friends tell me you can get amazing deals on saabs, pontiacs and chryslers becuase GM cut some dealers loose and won't buy the cars back, I think she said someone she knew got a $40K+ MSRP saab for like $25K. But I don't want to touch GM with a ten foot pole after dealing with DH's car - I think a car should last more than 11 years/90K miles! GM is going into bankruptcy for a reason.

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Old 05-20-2009, 04:53 AM
 
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I have a 2002 Toyota Prius. We got it used when people were upgrading last time and absolutely adore it. Since the next generation is coming out, it might be worth keeping an eye open.
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Old 05-20-2009, 10:22 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I have a 2002 Toyota Prius. We got it used when people were upgrading last time and absolutely adore it. Since the next generation is coming out, it might be worth keeping an eye open.
I'm considering that as well. Now that I'm seeing the 09 prius can be had for not that much more than the regular camry. It gets great ratings too for reliability, etc.

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Old 05-20-2009, 11:16 AM
 
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I've had friends tell me you can get amazing deals on saabs, pontiacs and chryslers becuase GM cut some dealers loose and won't buy the cars back, I think she said someone she knew got a $40K+ MSRP saab for like $25K. But I don't want to touch GM with a ten foot pole after dealing with DH's car - I think a car should last more than 11 years/90K miles! GM is going into bankruptcy for a reason.
You might want to take a look at the Pontiac Vibe. It's a twin of the Toyota Matrix with a Corolla engine, so basically it's a Toyota with the Pontiac name. I was talking to a salesman at a local Toyota place about it the other day and he seemed to think it was a great car that one could potentially get an awesome deal on right now. He didn't seem to be bothered by warranty issues either (which was my big question).
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Old 05-20-2009, 11:18 AM - Thread Starter
 
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You might want to take a look at the Pontiac Vibe. It's a twin of the Toyota Matrix with a Corolla engine, so basically it's a Toyota with the Pontiac name. I was talking to a salesman at a local Toyota place about it the other day and he seemed to think it was a great car that one could potentially get an awesome deal on right now. He didn't seem to be bothered by warranty issues either (which was my big question).
I thought the US government agreed to stand behind the US automakers warranties?

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Old 05-20-2009, 11:47 AM
 
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We had a Matrix and my neighbor bought a vibe last year and we have both been happy with them. They have a bit worse fuel economy than the corrola- probably more comparable to the camry.

If you can find a used Honda Fit for your budget, that is what I would get. Since they have only been out for a few years, I don't know if they will have dropped in value enough though.

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Old 05-20-2009, 02:04 PM
 
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we are honda people 100%, so my vote is for a honda....new or used, doesn't matter. they are WONDERFUL cars! we have 2......i drive an odyssey and dh drives an accord (a 1998 accord in fact) and they have been terrific! he did go and test drive a FIT when they first came out and is seriously considering something small like that when it's time to replace the old accord.

don't know a TON about toyotas, but i would assume they are just as nice as hondas.

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Old 05-20-2009, 03:20 PM
 
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Old 05-21-2009, 12:45 PM
 
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I know Malibu's have bad reputations (and some are really lemons) but we had a 1999 Malibu that my mom bought used in 2001 and gave to us in 2007, and the only problem we ever had out of it was one plastic $16 part that broke about once every six months. I would have drove that car to California if I had needed to (we live in Alabama). We just sold it last month to my brother and it has 160k+ miles on it and still going strong.

That said, I much prefer Toyotas or Hondas. Right now we have a Dodge Magnum (total impulse buy on DH's part...I tried and tried to talk him into the Honda Accord on the other side of the lot but he wouldn't listen) and will be trading it on a Toyota as soon as we can. My brother bought a 1996 Toyota Camry with 250k miles on it and drives it 60 miles roundtrip to work every day -- he's even taken it 300+ miles away on trips and it works beautifully!

mama to sara faith -- 9.2007 and june claire -- 4.2010 (born at 27 weeks)
four angels watching over us -- 4.2003, 3.2004, 2.2009, 9.2009
lovelysunlight is offline  
 
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